Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” is an unbelievable amalgamation of everything that makes a classic coming-of-age movie; growing up on different sides of the street, challenging authority, interacting with a changing culture—all set against a peculiar interpretation of one of the darkest decades in human history.
“Jojo Rabbit” is set in an ailing Germany nearing the end of the Second World War and is inspired by the novel “Caging Sunshine” by Christine Leunen. The film follows the titular Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis in his film debut), a ten-year-old boy enamored with and disillusioned by the Nazi Party, when he discovers a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in his house. Additional performances include Waititi as Jojo’s imaginary friend Adolf Hitler, Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s nurturing mother, Sam Rockwell as a bumbling Nazi officer and Stephen Merchant as a discomforting Gestapo agent. All of the supporting players nail their respective performances, but the chemistry between Davis and McKenzie stands out especially.
Equal parts “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Life is Beautiful,” the film displays humanity during the worst times in recorded history. The audience experiences the intense, explosive advances of the Allies on Germany as well as over-the-top caricatures of Nazis in jeopardy—often in the same sequence. Stunning cinematography of the cobblestone European cityscape was achieved by shooting around the Czech Republic. The matched with teen anthems through the ages by Bowie and the Beatles makes “Jojo Rabbit” an incredible audio-visual experience.
Taika Waititi, known mostly for directing Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok” as well as the New Zealand box-office champions “Boy” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” crafts the perfect balance between sensitivity towards the casualties of the war and the sheer blind loyalty to the Nazi Party. Waititi’s cartoonish interpretation of Hitler as a moody man-child is downright hilarious, and the hopelessly incompetent German Army is reminiscent of Disney’s “Der Fuehrer’s Face” due to their comic last pushes against the Allies. The commanding officers are painfully aware that the fate of Germany is nigh, which ironically adds to the positive feel to the film.
All of the humor in “Jojo Rabbit” is in good taste; never once in the film are the victims of the Holocaust the butt of the jokes, but instead it is the Nazis’ preposterous propaganda painting the Jews as horned beasts in disguise and other wild disinformation spread by German soldiers quivering in their boots. That being said, the target audience should have at least a little of an understanding of WWII.
As far as the historical accuracy in the film, Waititi took many creative liberties that diverged from nonfiction. For example, the unorthodox training methods in the Hitler Youth Camp were greatly exaggerated. The film is also meant to be the world through the eyes of a child, so there is some combination of fantasy and fact.
At its core, “Jojo Rabbit” is full of heart. Best seen with some background knowledge of WWII, this film could be watched by anyone with an open mind for a creative interpretation of the Axis Powers. The message of love drives this film home, and although the rapid-fire comedy draws joy in the immediacy of the scene, the stuff that sticks around after the credits roll is how a complex story in a convoluted backdrop of a nation at war turns out to be so charming.